The Pilgrimage Begins by Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz). Wood engraving, 3 1/4 x 4 3/4 inches (8.6 x 11.7 cm). — Chapter 12, The Old Curiosity Shop, Part Eight. Date of original serial publication: 20 June 1840. Master Humphrey's Clock, Part 11, 156. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

Context of the Illustration: The Pilgrims set out for The Heavenly City

It was the beginning of a day in June; the deep blue sky unsullied by a cloud, and teeming with brilliant light. The streets were, as yet, nearly free from passengers, the houses and shops were closed, and the healthy air of morning fell like breath from angels, on the sleeping town.

The old man and the child passed on through the glad silence, elate with hope and pleasure. They were alone together, once again; every object was bright and fresh; nothing reminded them, otherwise than by contrast, of the monotony and constraint they had left behind; church towers and steeples, frowning and dark at other times, now shone in the sun; each humble nook and corner rejoiced in light; and the sky, dimmed only by excessive distance, shed its placid smile on everything beneath.

Forth from the city, while it yet slumbered, went the two poor adventurers, wandering they knew not whither. [Chapter XII, 127]


Dickens uses this large-scale tailpiece engraving to signal the importance of the departure scene; although the curiosity shop dos not appear within the frame, Phiz implies its presence through Nell's intense look to the right and through the decaying eighteenth-century portico. The plate marks the transition, then, between the early, London-based chapters and the remaining scenes set outside the metropolis.

As Joan Stevens explains in her study of the woodblock illustrations in The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge that

in the forty issues which carry OCS, seventeen  final versos offer illustrations; seven are issue tailpieces, the rest half page insets. Both types mark moments of significance in narrative or theme.

Examples of half-page insets are those of 14/14 (Kit holds the pony), 28/41  (the single gentleman sets out in search of Nell), 35/55 (Little Nell and the Sexton,) 7 36/57 (Swiveller and the Marchioness at cribbage). The best examples of the functional value of the final verso inset are however those at 13/12 and 44/72. At 13/12 Dickens deliberately plans a climax (plate V). The issue is that for June 27th, 1840. Nell and her grandfather are leaving the old Shop forever. Five lines of text head the page, ending with the words "The child . . . putting her hand in his, led him gently away." Then comes the woodcut, showing the two moving over the cobblestones, and the words run on, "It was the beginning of a day in June; . . ." Two paragraphs follow emphasizing the light, physical and emotional, of that morning escape from evil, and Dickens ends the issue rhetorically with "Forth from the city, while it yet slumbered, went the two poor adventure[er]s, wandering they knew not whither. [Stevens 119]

Phiz implies through the ruinous doorway (right), whose architectural embellishments are crumbling and in disarray, that Nell's best days are now behind her, instead of suggesting that the pair will enjoy a fresh start in life. She leaves London burdened by her physically and mentally decrepit grandfather, and her constant abode for many years about to be sacked by Quilp and his odious minions. Rather than evoking Adam and Eve leaving Paradise hand-in-hand at the conclusion of Milton's Paradise Lost, Phiz comments on the hopelessness of the situation. Although he is the adult and has a lifetime's experience of London and its environs, Grandfather Trent does not know which way to go, and places himself under Nell's direction. The cobblestone street is, as Dickens describes, void of foot-passengers and traffic generally owing to the earlieness of the hour. But, especially to Dickens's first readers in Master Humphrey's Clock, the effect must have been one of intense defamiliarisation, as the lifeless street in no way reflects the Londoner's experience of the City, even at 7:00 A. M..

The two further London street scenes that ensue energetically display London as a place of action (Quilp's being pummelled by Dick Swiveller) and opportunity (Kit's providential meeting with the Garlandsat the notary's office). Phiz suggests the rising of the sun in the departure scene by the intense light in theupper registers of the surrounding buildings, and the declining shadows at the bottom of the composition. Nell looks to the right and forward, as if she suspects that they may be followed, while her grandfather looks determinedly to the left, but downward, as if looking within himself rather than at the streets abouthim. Despite what Dickens tells us about Nell's assuming the role of guide, she is stock still, and her grandfatheris in mid-stride, as if she alert to what lies behind them, and has not yet considered what lies ahead. She clingsto him for support, but he seems oblivious to her grip on his arm. In contrast, in the next two city scenes Phizfills the urban backdrops with light and peoples them six characters each. The sets are "open," so to speak, with no bystreets or blocking buildings in the successive scenes, whereas in The Wanderers Phiz creates a sense of enclosed space, blockage, and entrapment. In particular, the doorway and passageway to the left seem to small to accommodate the wanderers, and the space between the two blocks of buildings seems to render escape in that direction improbable.

Other Pertinent Illustrations of the Wanderers

Left: The derivative title-page vignette for the American "New Illustrated Library Edition," Vols. VI and VII: The Wanderers and Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness (1876). Middle: Harry Furniss's character study of Nell and her grandfather on the highroad: The Wanderers in his 1910 series. Right: . Right: Sol Eytinge, Jr.'s depiction of the weary travellers, stopping to rest and looking back on Lodon in the distance: Little Nell and Her Grandfather (1867).

Related Resources Including Other Illustrated Editions

Scanned image, colour correction, sizing, caption, and commentary by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose, as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image, and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop in Master Humphrey's Clock. Illustrated by Phiz, George Cattermole, Samuel Williams, and Daniel Maclise. 3 vols. London: Chapman and Hall, 1840.

Created 10 May 2020

Last modified 11 November 2020